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Drug crimes in California: are they federal or state offenses?

On Behalf of | Jan 22, 2024 | Criminal Defense

If the police knock on your door and arrest you for drug-related charges, you may wonder whether the federal government or the state of California will oversee your case and whether there is a difference.

This is a valid and important question because the agency that charges you, whether that be the federal government or the state, can speak to the severity of the charges and the potential outcome of your case.

Federal vs. state crimes

In California, law enforcement categorizes drug offenses as either federal or state crimes. A drug offense can also fall under both federal and state authorities.

Federal drug crimes

Federal drug crimes involve offenses that violate the laws of the United States’ government. These offenses tend to be more severe in nature and carry harsher penalties. For example:

  • Drug trafficking across state lines,
  • Drug manufacturing on a large scale,
  • Drug-related activities that impact national security.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is the federal agency that oversees these crimes from investigation to prosecution. It is important to emphasize that federal drug offenses, as compared to state-level crimes, carry more severe penalties.

State drug crimes

State drug crimes are offenses that violate California laws. This includes crimes including drug possession, distribution or anything that does not violate a federal law. Local government agencies, like city police and county sheriffs, handle investigations and prosecutions for state drug offenses.

Penalties for state drug crimes can vary based on the specific act and the type of substance involved. Even though the penalties for drug offenses within the state are less severe than those for federal crimes, even minor drug offenses at the state level can have serious consequences, including fines, probation and a criminal record.

When federal and state laws collide

The federal government and the state of California can both charge a person in certain cases. This happens when a person conducts criminal activities that violate federal and state laws. These people often face much harsher penalties and these cases can be more complicated.

Making educated decisions requires knowing the differences between drug offenses committed in California on a state and federal level.